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Examining a Disease Found More Frequently in Women

|by Robert Kimmel|

Quick Quiz: What health problem is four times more prevalent in women than in men?

Osteoporosis is the answer; a common ailment, but many people with the disease don’t realize they are suffering from it until they fracture a bone. Millions of Americans suffer from the condition, defined by loss of bone density and bone mass. Older people and post-menopausal woman are among the most at risk. About 1.5 million bone fractures are attributed to osteoporosis annually.

Of an estimated 12 million individuals in the United States who have osteoporosis, some 80% of them are women. The major reasons for the majority of woman with the affliction are that they generally start life with lower bone mass, live longer than men, and lose estrogen production after their menopausal phase. The loss of estrogen quickens the loss of bone mass, according to health professionals.

Dr. Michael Marchese consults with a patient.

Dr. Michael Marchese consults with a patient.

Dr. Michael Marchese, an endocrinologist at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, noted that there are other factors at play, such as genetics, environmental, certain medications, malnutrition, and low body weight. Cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to osteoporosis, according to Dr. Marchese. “There are a lot of hormones that play a role in bone formation and bone loss,” he said. “People that have thyroid disease, hypothyroidism, issues with growth hormones and low testosterone levels can suffer bone loss.” Gradual loss of calcium is the major culprit.

Cases of osteoporosis are statistically on the rise. Part of that increase, Dr. Marchese believes, may be due to the growing number of people at risk being diagnosed with the disease by having bone scans taken and also because people are living longer. The most commonly used scans, are called DXA, technically known as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or bone densitometry. Patients are evaluated by a certain bone density score. Results are identified as a “T-score,” Dr. Marchese explained. Lower scores indicate weaker bones with increased risks of fractures. While an estimated seven percent of postmenopausal woman have osteoporosis, another forty percent have osteopenia, a degree of low bone density not classified as osteoporosis, but placing patients at greater risk for it.

“People should be their own advocate, getting their bone density examined,” when in the at risk groups, Dr. Marchese noted. Those categories include women, beginning in their fifties, and both men and women should be screened over the age of 70. “Males often don’t get screening, but they are the ones who have higher mortality rates from fractures,” the doctor cautioned.

Dr. Marchese recommended that ways to cope with low bone density and help prevent the onset of osteoporosis include staying active, doing some weight bearing exercises and maintaining a healthy diet that provides adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D aids the body’s use calcium, the gradual lack of which accelerates bone mass loss. Other recommendations include the cessation of smoking and that the consumption of alcohol be limited.

Among the free monthly health education programs that Phelps Hospital offers is a group session on “Osteoporosis Support and Education,” each second Thursday of the month, during which attendees learn about “proper nutrition, exercising, (weight-bearing, strengthening and balance), and activities of daily living.” The next session takes place Thursday, November 12, beginning at 11 a.m. and continuing until 12:30 p.m. The location is in the Boardroom at the C-level at Phelps, 701 North Broadway in Sleepy Hollow. Registration and more information can be obtained by calling 914-366-2270, or for more information, email swoods@pmhc.us.

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